For more than 75 years, a 49-acre plot of land in a small Connecticut town has housed some of the gems of architectural history. In addition to the Glass House, Philip Johnson’s legendary building for which the property is named, the New Canaan estate includes more than a dozen buildings that form the late architect’s lasting legacy.
Johnson’s Brick House was the first building constructed on the property but has become the most overlooked. It’s a red bunker-like house, and it couldn’t be more different from the famous glass-walled building it faces. Now, after being closed to the public for 15 years, it is set to reopen next year after an ambitious seven-figure refurbishment.
A tale of two buildings
Unlike Johnson’s other famous designs, which include the Seagram Building in Manhattan and the postmodern AT&T skyscraper, the structures on the Glass House property were created by the architect for his own use. Beginning in the 1940s, the New Canaan plot was the regular weekend resort for Johnson and his partner, David Whitney.
Both the seemingly impregnable Brick House and the see-through greenhouse were built in 1949 on 56 feet of the property. It was designed to provide “two essential halves of a single composition,” according to a statement from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the nonprofit that owns the site. Not only did the concept apply to aesthetics, but the brick house housed the mechanical equipment for both buildings and connected the greenhouse to the necessary underground pipes and wires. As a bedroom, it provided privacy that the adjacent glass structure lacked.
While the Glass House served as a salon, where Johnson hosted parties frequented by Yale students and notable people including Frank Gehry, Fran Lebowitz, and Agnes Gund, the Brick House was used as an overnight guest house by the likes of Andy Warhol and Phyllis Lambert.
The Brick House was originally designed with three bedrooms with skylights, although in 1953 two rooms were combined to create one large bedroom. A statue of Abram Lasso hangs above the bed on the wall covered with luxurious cotton fabric.
Over the years, Johnson and Whitney added more structures to their Connecticut property, each with a unique purpose. An underground art gallery was created to display works by Jasper Johns, Frank Stella and Robert Rauschenberg, while a sculpture gallery was added a few years later. The architect also built a one-room studio, a chain-link structure known as the “Ghost House” and a 30-foot tower that he frequently climbed.
In 1986, Johnson donated the property to the National Trust for Historic Preservation on the condition that it be available to the public after his death. Two years after the architect’s death in 2005 at the age of 98, the Glass House Hotel was opened and now attracts more than 10,000 visitors a year. However, the brick house was only open to the public for one year. It has been closed since 2008 due to ongoing water damage, roof and skylight failure, mold growth, rusting mechanical systems and deteriorating plaster.
Restoring the brick house has long been a top priority for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which revealed yesterday (November 15) that it has secured $1.8 million to reopen it in 2024. With its furniture, books and artwork stored off-site for the time being, the restoration project will The building replaced the house’s roof and skylights, repaired its entrance and three windows, and modernized its mechanical and electrical systems. Meanwhile, the makers of original fabric wallpaper and rugs at Brick House will provide alternatives.
It is scheduled to reopen in April 2024, coinciding with the opening of the Glass House property for the season and the 75th anniversary of the Brick and Glass House property, which will be celebrated with a series of events, exhibitions and featured artists.
“We are very excited to embark on this project and finally be able to introduce visitors to such an essential part of the Glass House’s story,” Kirsten Reutsch, the greenhouse’s new executive director, said in a statement. “We look forward to using the Brick House as a catalyst for more projects to come – whether future restoration of our buildings, landscaping or collections and as inspiration for new site-specific art commissions in the future.”